Our Town: Willis Ave. bench offers touch of Italy

Dr Tom Ferraro

“Life will find a way”  – Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

For the longest time I have noted one little place in Williston Park that is always buzzing with action. It’s the set of three benches on Willis Avenue across the street from Baci Gelato and just north of the Williston House apartments. 

There is nothing noteworthy about the setting, just three wooden benches backed by a fence with a parking lot.  

But the benches are almost always filled so this past Saturday morning at about 8:30 a.m. I sauntered over to ‘the bench’ to get an interview. 

The first man I met was Bill Correale and he told me he has been coming to the bench nearly every day for 14 years.  

As we chatted the bench began to fill up. Frank Volpe was next to arrive. He is a relative newcomer to the bench having arrived only two years ago.  

They both told me that they have made many friends at the bench. Frank travels back to Sicily each year and I thought about what Andrea Cereillo, owner of Cereillo’s told me last week. 

In Sicily the men hang out together in the piazzas but in America we all stay home and watch TV. 

They told me that in the mornings the benches are filled with the men and in the afternoon it’s the women who make a small circle with their chairs.  

Next to show up was Pasquale Filocamo who owns Superior Hair Style right across the street at 603 Willis. He comes to the bench at least 10 times a day to get a break from work and to chat. 

As they all talked I was getting the feeling this was a miniature sized European piazza without the fountain. 

I asked them what they thought of the setting and they all seemed to be content enough despite the small size and unassuming look of it all.  

They remarked that they had the bagel store, Hack’s deli, the gelato shop and Gino’s pizza all within eyesight.  

Next to arrive was Joe Salerno who is called a ‘real bench man.’  He has been coming for 10 years and he brought with him a nice seat cushion. 

James Howard Kunstler wrote the classic critique of suburbia “Geography of Nowhere” in 1993. 

When I interviewed him he told me “thanks to a hodgepodge of architectural choices and accommodations to car culture we live in towns which are ugly and which are difficult if not impossible to care about.” 

Of course his criticisms are correct. There are very few towns in America that are worth visiting. 

We have Stony Brook on Long Island and Carmel-by-the-Sea in California.  Both are miracles to behold and both have unique histories. . The rest of the suburbs have a haphazard and random look with very little identity.  But despite or because of that The Bench has emerged almost like a flower that grows through the crack of a sidewalk.  

As Michael Crichton said in “Jurassic Park” “Life will find a way.” 

The bench has a life of its own because of the people. It may not have much shade and may not have much room or beauty to it but it grows. It has the stores nearby and it is close enough so that people can walk to it. 

I can envision Williston Park 200 years from now. 

The bench will still be there but over time there will be a mayor or a town planner or trustee who will begin to invest in the bench and make it a little bigger and prettier and more shaded. 

Who knows maybe they will put a fountain in too?  Everyone loves fountains. 

Rome has Trevi Fountain so why shouldn’t we have Williston Fountain.  

All of this takes time. Paris is 10,000 years old, yes 10,000 years old. 

Williston Park  is only 88 years old. 

We are still babies.  And babies need to be listened to.  And the voice I hear from the bench is ‘I am alive and well so you had better feed me a little bit Mom’. 

About the author

Dr Tom Ferraro

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